The Premier League is packed with some of the world’s best talent, with the likes of Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fabregas stealing the plaudits season after season. However, the last time I checked the Premier League was not composed solely of Chelsea, Manchester United Arsenal and (choke) Liverpool. The Premier League is packed with unsung heroes, and so, here are ten players who do not seem to get the plaudits they deserve…
1. Carlton Cole
Ok, Carlton Cole is in the England squad and isn’t exactly an unknown quantity. However, what can be quite irksome are those who place Cole in the same category as Emile Heskey; physical, strong, but ultimately doesn’t score enough. Actually, whilst Cole struggled for goals when joining West Ham in 2006, he’s scored nine goals in 17 starts this season, often in a 4-5-1 formation where he plays upfront as a lone striker.
Since Gianfranco Zola started working with Cole, he is a different player. He’ll score headers, spectacular efforts (see the volley against Tottenham) and creates opportunities for others. He should go to the World Cup, and should he get a game, West Ham will have a job fending off potential suitors.
2. Phil Jagielka
If you ask any Everton fan who they’d have rather kept out of Lescott and Jagielka, they’d have opted for the former Sheffield United player hands down. This is not intended as a slight on Lescott, who is looking like becoming a real player under Mancini, but if Lescott was worth £24m to Everton, Jagielka is priceless.
Jagielka reads the game excellently, does not pull out of a single challenge, and despite being on the smaller side, he is capable in the air. At £4m the player was a steal, and with John Heitinga at the back, Everton have a chance of pushing for Europe again this season.
3. Maynor Figueroa
Wigan Athletic Chairman Dave Whelan accused Roberto Martinez’s predecessor Steve Bruce of some ‘dodgy signings’, after Bruce departed the DW Satdium for Wearside in 2009. However, Maynor Figueroa cannot have been one of these signings. Figueroa hit the headlines against Stoke City in a 2-2 draw at the Britannia Stadium for chipping Thomas Sorensen from the half way line, in what could be the goal of the season. However, whilst this goal brought the player into the spotlight, Figueroa has been a consistent performer at left full-back since the beginning of last season.
He cost Wigan next to nothing, and yet his defending, free kicks and long throws have seen interest in the player swell to the extent Sunderland were linked with a £5m bid. Figueroa will also play in the World Cup alongside compatriot Wilson Palacios in South Africa, and should the 26 year old enjoy a good tournament, his star may be set to rise further still.
4. Michael Dawson
Whilst Tottenham Hotspur’s attackers have taken the plaudits this season, Tottenham’s good defensive record appears to be slipping beneath the radar. Only Manchester United, Chelsea and Aston Villa have a better defensive record than Spurs. Tottenham have conceded just 27 goals in 28 matches, which for an open outfit like Tottenham, who always play with two strikers, is an excellent statistic. It should be noted then, that Dawson has appeared in 20 of Tottenham’s 28 games, and has been the lynchpin of Tottenham’s defence.
Dawson has been named club captain on many occasions this term also, deputizing for Robbie Keane and Ledley King. In the absence of Jonathan Woodgate, Michael Dawson has been immense.
5. Phillip Neville
This is a source of contention, because after Euro 2000, it was universally accepted that Phil Neville was, in no uncertain terms, rubbish. However, he won six Premier league titles, three FA Cups, the Champions League and World Club Cup championship with Manchester United. Further, Ferguson recently praised Neville as being one of the few players to have ‘left [United] and done well’.
Everton have finished 5th in the Premier League in two successive seasons, and Neville, 33, has been a major part of that success, anchoring the midfield, or playing as left or right fullback. Neville has averaged 36 games a season since joining Everton from Manchester United in 2005 and is now club captain. An integral part of David Moyes team, Neville is reliable, committed, versatile, and hugely underrated.
6. Chung-Yong Lee
Chung-Yong Lee probably has hardly been around long enough to be considered underrated, yet his performances at Bolton this season suggest that before long, Premier League vultures will be circling the 19 year old Bolton midfielder.
The South-Korean midfielder has scored four goals in 19 starts for Bolton since joining in 2009 from FC Seoul for £2.2m, and looks to be a real talent. His movement off the ball to create space for others is intelligent, and his energy levels are reminiscent of his countryman Park Ji-Sung. It will be interesting to see if the player remains at Bolton after this summer’s World Cup, should the youngster take his good form to South Africa.
7. Kevin Doyle
The Irishman had a great debut season in the Premier League, scoring 13 goals in a Reading side that took the Premier League by storm in 2006/07. Whilst he has managed just 12 goals for Reading and Wolves in his two subsequent seasons in the Premier League, the 27 year old striker would undoubtedly score goals at a more prolific club. Doyle is a real handful for any defence, with his ability to work the channels, his aerial prowess and positional awareness.
If Wolves do get relegated this season, established Premier League clubs could do a lot worse than take a gamble on Kevin Doyle.
8. Paul Scharner
The Austrian can play pretty much anywhere across the defence or midfield, and has been one of Wigan’s most consistent performers since the club won promotion to the Premier League in 2005. Further, he was Wigan’s first player to make 100 Premier League appearances for the club. Scharner’s contract expires in the summer, and the 29 year old will no doubt have a list of Premier League clubs willing to snap him up.
To date Paul Scharner has amassed an impressive 134 appearances for Wigan Athletic in the Premier League, scoring 14 times. Scharner is good in the air, has good technique and can score the odd goal too. A very underrated player.
9. Tom Huddlestone
Tom Huddlestone is a controversial inclusion, as not only has he represented England, but he came to Tottenham with a big reputation when he signed from Derby in 2005 for £3m. However, Huddlestone looked set to leave Tottenham in the summer, with Juande Ramos and Martin Jol all overlooking the player in the past.
Now 23, Huddlestone has cemented his place in the Tottenham starting line-up this season ahead of Jermaine Jenas, winning over his doubters at White Hart Lane. Criticised for his lack of pace and mobility, Huddlestone has clearly worked on his agility and is now far more combative. However, his strength remains his passing, and Huddlestone’s ability to spray 40-50 yard passes to his team mate’s feet has been a major reason behind Tottenham’s assault on a Champions League place. Whilst Milner, Barry and Carrick et al look set for South Africa this season, Huddleston’s form suggests he cannot be too much further down that list.
10. Ricardo Gardner
The Jamaican has been at Bolton since 1998, and has always been a consistent performer, playing as a left-wing back, a left midfielder or an attacking central midfield player.
At 32, Gardner is still performing well for Bolton, but rarely gets the praise he deserves. Gardner has good delivery and his composure and touch have seen him add creativity to Bolton’s attack from a more central position this season. Since being promoted into the Premier League again in 2001 Gardner has been an ever present, and is hugely underrated.
Well there you have it, ten of the more unappreciated players in the Premier League. Hopefully this list will be universally accepted as gospel… Unfortunately I can already hear some of you loading up your shot-guns.